Precision

Here I am, back in Brussels, an outer-Finn (Finnish expat) once more.

This time around I’ve met loads of other Finns around town so we have a tiny Finnish bubble in Brussels – you’d be surprised how many Finns there actually are.

The contrast with Finns and other people is thus even more pronounced; it’s easy to compare right on the spot. And one thing that has caught my eye is the precision which Finns practice in almost everything.

For example, I arranged to meet a friend after work and we made the arrangement by email. She suggested we meet at 18:35 and even specified the entrance in the building by which we should meet. She was then there at exactly 18:35 but apologised for being late since I was already there.

I on the other hand have adopted some bad habits – if I’ve been asked to a party or to a bar, I’ll turn up within 30min of the agreed time and don’t think of it as being too late. Most Finns will apologise in advance if they foresee a situation where they’ll be late even for 5 minutes.

Another form of precision is with money. Finns will pay exactly what they owed and make sure to pay it as soon as possible. Recently we went out with 5 Finnish girls and one Belgian guy – when the bill came the guy was ready to foot the bill but, alas, we had already calculated the exact amount each one of us owed and just gave it to the waiter. He was shocked by our habit of fumbling around with money and change and trying to figure out the best way of making sure we have exact change.

The night ended with me taking a taxi with my flatmates – two Finns – and it came up to about 13 euros. Flatmate 1 paid and then we quickly calculated that we owe her 4.33 euros which Flatmate 2 paid immediately. I now have 4.30e on my desk ready to be handed out and I feel bad for not having the 3 cents… Guess I’m not a true Finn.

Time

Time may be a relative concept everywhese else but not in Finland.

Being on time is a matter of principle to most Finnish people. When you’ve agreed to meet someone, you allow yourself 15 minutes of leeway – which then usually means you’re 15 minutes ahead of schedule all the time.

This is obviously all fine in Finland when everyone adheres to the same principle.

Did the inventor of clocks have Finnish ancestry?

When abroad, Finns find it hard to adjust to the new concept of time. Foreigners may find it odd to receive a call from a Finn, apologising in advance for being five minutes late. Finns on the other hand will be extremely annoyed 15 minutes into the scheduled appointment if you’re not there.

A dinner party scheduled to start at 19 will start exactly then and the food will be ready shortly after. In my feeble attempts to control my Finnishness, I’ve arrived to a Greek dinner party 30 minutes late and still always managed to be the first one in.

The same applies to public transport for example. If the bus is 5 minutes late, you’re practically on the phone with the company trying to find out what’s wrong. Delays of more than 15 minutes are atrocious and inexcusable.

We may just be the most punctual nation in the world.